August 2017

Going Wild in Wilpattu
August 2017

A watchful eye

Along sandy roads we drove to discover the vibrant wildlife of Wilpattu National Park, which is situated in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka.

Words: Udeshi Amarasinghe
Photography: Menaka Aravinda and Vishwathan Tharmakulasingam

Wilpattu is considered as one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka having been established in 1938. Being also one of the largest, its terrain varies significantly with three types of vegetation including salt grass and low scrub; monsoon scrub and forest areas. The main feature of Wilpattu is its numerous villus or natural lakes that are scattered across the entire area.

During the rainy season these lakes are full of water, however in the dry season as it was during our visit, most of the villus had dried up. It is generally in the evening that animals start to emerge from the deep forest cover as the heat of the sun recedes. Due to its variety in terrain Wilpattu provides habitat to a greater diversity of animals.

Wilpattu is bordered in north by the Kala Oya and on the south by Modaragam Aru.

As we progressed into the jungle our first encounter was with a herd of deer that scattered across as we approached. Birds such as Serpent Eagles and Crested Hawk Eagles caught our attention. At times we were astounded by the regularity that we saw these birds. The beauty of Wilpattu is that while many wildlife enthusiasts visit the park, its natural atmosphere and serenity have been maintained. All take the utmost of care not to disturb the animals.

The Sloth Bear is A sub-Species that is endemic to Sri Lanka. Sightings are rare as the animal is extremely illusive. Sloth Bears love to eat palu.

We were suddenly alerted to the presence of a Sloth Bear. Sightings of these illusive creatures are extremely rare and we were extremely excited. A young Sloth Bear was busily clawing at the earth and eating something that seemed to be his favourite. We watched him for more than half an hour, when he slowly moved towards the road and ran across to the other side. He paused for a moment and gave us a good look before venturing into the forest. Not long after, passing jeeps informed us that there was another Sloth Bear and this time on a tree! Yes indeed, sprawled across an upper branch of a palu tree was a mature Sloth Bear. He seemed to be lazing in the evening light, his scars visible to the naked eye.

You are bound to see the leopard, The Prince of the wild, during the evening near a Villu.

We journeyed farther, passing dried up villus. Wherever there was water there were flocks of aquatic birds. Ducks, painted storks, lesser adjutants and much more. And, it was at one such villu that our tracker excitedly pointed a lone leopard at the edge of the water. We watched the prince of the jungle for almost an hour as he strutted around the villu showing his prowess. As the sun began its decent the leopard marked its territory and ran away into the darkness.

Spend the night inside Wilpattu, it is truly an experience where you are isolated from the outside world.

An early morning safari the following day treated us to another Sloth Bear sighting, where the bear was crossing the road while engaging in his early morning feed. Barking deer, sambar as well as rabbits, buffalos and jackals made their presence known as we journeyed into the park through out the day. By evening we had also seen a lone female elephant who had been separated from its herd and crocodiles basking in the sun.

We had seen a great variety of animals during our visit to Wilapttu and to have seen the ‘Big Three'; Elephant, Leopard and Sloth Bear was a special experience indeed.